Professional football clubs are increasingly apprehensive about the effects of player-agent negotiations and collective bargaining. One test case, of sorts, has failed. Five Cleveland players—John Wooten, Leroy Kelly, John Brown, Mike Howell and Sidney Williams—announced two weeks ago through a lawyer that they were being treated as peons and would boycott the club until it met their demands. Former Cleveland Fullback Jimmy Brown, who supported the joint bargaining, said the athletes were only "exercising their right to protest a get-strong policy, which owners have adopted since the merger of the AFL and NFL. When the merger was passed players no longer held a fair bargaining position." After holding out for a week—through which Cleveland Owner Art Modell held out just as strongly for his right to bargain with each man individually—the players gave up their group action.
But the club owners, far from feeling the crisis has passed, believe it may, in fact, just be beginning. "We haven't been faced with any serious holdouts this season," said Kansas City General Manager Jack Steadman, "but maybe our turn is coming. We seem to be headed for a ruinous situation." In Atlanta, the Falcons' general manager, Frank Wall, declared, "Players are only hurting themselves by going into negotiations through an agent or third party." In Los Angeles, Elroy Hirsch said, "If such stands continue, they could be the downfall of professional football."
These are the expectable attitudes of managements faced with the threat of any kind of unionism, but far more to the point were the views of Dallas General Manager Tex Schramm: "The unionism approach is certainly evident. I think this would be very bad for the players and I would resist it, but only from their standpoint. For management, there would, in fact, be great advantages. Wherever you run into a union problem, you will find it is not going to benefit the outstanding performers. In our business the outstanding athlete is the one who will win for you and the one who attracts people. The ultimate in unionism is that the minimum becomes the maximum, and in that context, unionism will penalize the outstanding players in the league."
Last week a labor lawyer of some repute made a tough assessment of the Cleveland situation. He said groups like the one that faced Modell would always be unsuccessful, because, at heart, the athletes wanted to play football and had to. "What are they going to do if they don't sign?" he asked. "Wait on tables?"
He was oversimplifying the situation, and so was Schramm. There are tough times ahead.
Three weeks after British Cyclist Tommy Simpson collapsed and died while competing in the Tour de France, French authorities released their findings on the cause of his death. The immediate cause was heart failure, but a contributing factor was dope.
"Cyclists have been taking dope for 50 years," five-time Tour de France Winner Jacques Anquetil says. "I take dope. So do all leading bicycle riders. Those who say they don't are liars. Obviously, we could do without dope in a race, but then we would pedal by at 15 mph [instead of around 25 mph]. It wouldn't look like much of anything. Since we are constantly asked to go faster and to make an even greater effort, we are obliged to take stimulants. People ask too much of us."
Among those interested in high-quality performances are the companies who hire leading cyclists to advertise their wares. Tommy Simpson made $100,000 a year, most of it from Peugeot, the French auto manufacturer, and BP, the British petroleum firm. When he died, he was wearing trunks embroidered with the name of Peugeot, and on the shoulders of his jersey were the initials BP. Ironically, this year, Tour officials had tried to put an end to the huckster frenzy that has pervaded the 22-day, 2,990-mile race in the past. They insisted that cyclists compete on national teams and tried, unsuccessfully, to ban the advertisements for ball-point pens, refrigerators, aperitifs and other products cyclists normally wear on their jerseys. But sponsors successfully protested that the Tour was their premier showcase. When The Economist reported on Simpson's death it headlined its article: DEATH OF A SALESMAN?